Saturday, December 27, 2008

Christmas in Niger

Our First Christmas here in Niger.
In many ways we have been trying to figure out how it all works here, what they do here to celebrate (if anything at all) and how to set up our own new customs and ways to celebrate. I have been thinking often about how similar where I live must have been to the time and place where Jesus was born.
My co-workers Ace must have been thinking the same thing since he wrote a post about similar thoughts :) Here we are surrounded by dust, there are sheep, goats, cow and yes, even donkey, around us in the streets. It doesnt take much of a stretch of the imagination to picture a veiled young Mary riding a donkey, giving birth in a dusty, hay covered manger, the stars in the sky, the visitors etc.
The Christmas story comes alive living here in Niger.

We had so many opportunities to love our neighbors, share our lives and reason for being here, and to bless others, to look outside ourselves and focus on others in wonderful way that blessed us many times over.

The Sunday before Christmas our church had an outdoor carols service with live animals mixed in. Sitting amongst all the candles was beautiful, and the kids loved it.

The days of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day found us out of the house a lot visiting people. These are of course days when we are completely allowed to relax, spend time at home with family and focus on our time together and celebrating together, eating goodies, etc. It is a holiday day for us. However, we felt strongly that this day was also a unique and special day to share with our Nigerien friends, to tell them about Christmas (both the north american culture and what we do for it and the bible story of the birth of Jesus and the reason he came to earth as a baby). So we choose to dress up African and spend our days with our Nigerian friends, bringing gifts of fruit, tea and sugar, and the kids choose toys to give to all the other kids.

Ismaguils House and family

First we went to the hut of our night guard Ismaguil and his extended family. We had a wonderful time sitting with his wife and kids, uncles, etc.

The toys that our kids presented to their new African friends were a big hit, especially with the young ones!

Ismaguils wife and Arielle hit it off really well!

The Uncles and brothers who were there were very hospitable and did some translating while I worked to speak in Tamasheq with the women.

Visiting Sidimou's house

While Sidimou's immediate family is out in the bush so his wife can give birth to their first child (tradition dictates they go back to their families village for their first child) we still visited had tea, and spoke with his neices and nephews and cousins.

NEWS FLASH!! Just after I posted this we got a call saying his wife had the baby! So they have a new little boy, please pray for his health and that they would be strong enough to return to the big city soon!

Once again, for my kids, the goats were the stars of the show!

I love this picture of Bennett snuggling a baby goat. He was cooing to the baby goat and being so gentle (of course after he chased them around for a while!)

Paul sharing tea

Visiting Mohammed and family

Mohammed and his family welcomed us into their little cement home a few kilometres from our house. The kids played together in the room while the adults finished watching the JESUS FILM on National television that had been translated into Zarma. Wow. I surely hadn't expected to see that! It led to great opportunities to talk.

Bennett had fun using a rock to smash cinder block and show us how strong he is! Scary to think that a 3 year old can easily smash the bricks they build houses out of!

Their new friend Laila

And finally, just so you didn't think we missed out, here is a look at the "Boxing Day" sales in Niger! Yes, this is a stand selling used WINTER JACKETS. You see, it gets down to a chilly 20-23 degrees celsius outside at night. do they live and not freeze ;) So you wonder where all those winter jackets that you donate to organizations goes? Some of them end up here. I even saw some with their Value Village price tags still attached!! So I hope you enjoyed all your boxing day sales! Personally I didnt miss the shopping, the gifts, the hustle and money and media fighting for our spending dollars. A different Christmas, but wonderful in many ways!

Hitting the boxing day sales

We pray that this Christmas was wonderful for all of you, no matter where you found yourselves. Thank you for being part of our journey and support team!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Paul parents come for an early Christmas!

This post is a few weeks late due to the holidays and life in general, but I didn't want to lose the opportunity to post a little commentary and some pictures from the visit we had with Paul's parents. They live in Dubai and came to visit us for 10 days early Dececmber. While Niger may not be the tourist destination of choice for many people, we have such unique opportunities to share the people we know, villages, culture, food and experiences with the people who visit us. A wonderful early Christmas gift to us and the kids to have Roger and Bev come visit.

Sharing an early Christmas together

Paul and his Dad

Arielle looking beautiful in her Christmas ribbon

They arrived just days before Tabaski, a Muslim celebration where every household will sacrific sheeps. It was almost surreal to drive around and see dead sheep everywhere, heads, guts, kids playing with lungs, etc. Yuck. The smell hung around for days, and we got fresh leg of lamb, which we slow roasted with marinade and it was yummy!! But here are the common sights from that day

We also went out of town and visited friends and also went to two Tamasheq villages, The whole family really enjoyed our time there. Here is Mom enjoying some of the local children.

We enjoyed a picnic overlooking the plains and volcanic rock and scrub below us. A great photo op for mom and dad!

Mom and I had a project while she was here- to recover our big stuffed chair we brought to keep the dust from wrecking it. Here is the final product. Thanks for the help mom!

We had many adventures in markets, here is Mom looking at fabric in this crazy shop with tons of different colors and patterns.

Bennett playing around and climbing trees

One of our last days we went out of town to one of the world's last large natural giraffe reserves. They have 205 giraffes in the wild that are protected and you can go visit. You hire a guide who rides on your roof and takes you to the last place they were seen and you drive around looking for them. We saw over 40 giraffes that day, in multiple family units, even twins! An amazing experience!!

Bennett on the roof truck (dont worry we were stopped!) looking for the giraffes)

For more giraffe photos, you can see them at this link on my photography blog:

Sunday, November 30, 2008

A baby baptism and naming ceremony

The star of the show: Baby Zebbo

This last Sunday our family had the joy to go to a baptism and naming ceremony for the new son of one of Paul's good friends (Harouna the welder). We spent many hours over the day there and fully enjoyed learning how the ceremony and culture works in regards to baptisms. They are very important in this culture and are huge celebrations for the family and everyone they know.

I have included below a bunch of pictures I took through-out the day. Harouna asked me to come and video the event and I took over 200 still images too, all which we put on a disc with the videos as a gift for the family. They did also hire an african man to video the event, which he did with an old camera. Paul got to see his video and said that we (the white family!) seemed to be in much more of the video than the baby and family. We were the main attractions apparently!

The other camera man following me around.

Also, i have written an explantion (as given by my tutor) into the culture and what happens at these events for your learning pleasure!

Baptisms in Niger (generally the same for all the cultures with small variations)

Exactly one week after the baby is born there is the baptism.This should be observed for the best "honoring" of the customs and the date is fixed. The day of the actual birth (tankahari), the family eats well that day to celebrate. Possibly they will eat pieces of goat or sheep if they can afford it, but not necessarily.

For the first week the mom cannot go out with the baby. In fact, she cannot leave the baby's side. They believe in this first week that evil spirits are surrounding and wanting the baby. If she has to go to the bathroom, she will place a special knife under the head of the baby to protect him from spirits and possession.

The night before the baptism, there is a “fayandi”. The people who are helping prepare food for the baptism arrive. There is a party and music and dancing. They stay up most of the night dancing and music and preparing all the food and dishes for the party and starting the sauces, etc.

Very early the morning of the baptism, they get the sheep ready. In the muslim tradition it is mandatory that a sheep is killed, blood must flow. Even the poorest try to do this. If they absolutely cannot afford it they will try to get something that is white such as milk, finely ground millet that is white and sugar. Normally the early morning meal is sauce with bread for those who arrive for the naming and prayers. At around 7:00 am the Imam arrives and many friends. The men gather around the Imam for the presentation and prayers. The drummer walks around and pounds his drum and lets people know they are starting. The Imam says prayers for the baby and blessings on him. After the prayers they pass around plates with cola nuts and dates. This is the parents offering to Gods spirit and to share with the others.

After the prayers and nuts, the father and friends and a religious leaders go to the sheep. The father tells the name to the Imam, the Imam announces to God the name of the child, and at this moment they slit the throat of the animal (usually a sheep) and the blood flows. The drummer waits to hear the name of the child and see the blood flow, and then runs around, drumming and announcing the name of the child for everyone to hear.

People who need to work all leave after this (especially if it is in the middle of the week). The drummer walks around with a plate of henna, cola nuts, sugar, etc -all that represents the baptism. Men will give money onto this plate for the drummers. Before the people leave they all give money to the father (not in all cultures) this is the way they contribute to the costs and ceremonies, and know it comes back on them when it is their turn to have children or weddings. It represents an interesting way to do credit for expensive undertakings like a baptism or marriage. The women and close friends give small monetary gifts to the mother. Meals are served all day to the guests who arrive.

Here the women are dishing up the meal. It has approximately one hundred kilos of rice, a whole sheep, 10 litres of oil, 10 bags of macaroni and vegetables. They filled up 30 or so huge platters covered in food. I tried to help, and they mostly wouldn't let me, but finally humoured me and let me carry platters of rice to get the sauce added and hand them out to people.

This picture is of the main mid-day meal they served. Actually quite tasty! The men and women eat seperated from each other. They eat in groups around a big platter and eat with their right hand only. We taught Bennett this and he stuck his left hand in his pocket for safe keeping. He sure loved eating with his hands!

During the day people come and go. The mother is still in the room with the baby and and a few friends. People (family and special guests) are allowed to enter and greet the mother and family. We were invited into this inner room, and while we were there during the day, we also met the Burkina Faso Ambassador to Niger, a cabinet Minister and a few other important people. How humbling to be lumped into the same level of honor with people of high positions.

Visiting with the family and baby in the "inner room"

The parents, the Burkina Ambassador and a Cabinet Minister and Paul

The mother must stay for 40 days in what the tamasheqs call “amzor”. This means that she doesn’t work, she doesn’t go out unless to go the bathroom. You could say she is hibernating. This helps with milk production for breastfeeding, the baby is very fragile and she must be there, and it is the tradition. Someone has come for these 40 days to take care of her house, help with the children and make meals. The 41st day, to show she is done, a imam comes to the house . If it is a boy they will circumcise him and will shave his head. Girls heads are shaved too. (in other countries ad cultures they sometimes still practice female circumcision! thankfully not in Niger!). The Imam will offer more blessings for the child. The father is now authorized to sleep in the same bed as the mom (even to sleep was not permitted). The mother is free now to continue her life, work, go out,etc.

After getting over a little bit of shy-ness, or maybe just being socially unsure in this cultural setting, I managed to find this group of young women who were hilarious and very welcoming to me. We had a wonderful time laughing and telling stories and hanging out together. At times I am sure I completely missed what they were saying, and they laughed AT me as much as WITH me, but we had fun all the same!

A delightful young woman who showed me around and introduced me to people. She is married, has a child already, and I think she isn't even 20 yet.

The cast of characters throughout the day: